|1891–1892, 1894||Pittsburgh Athletic Club|
|1890||Allegheny Athletic Association|
|1891–1892||Pittsburgh Athletic Club|
Professor William Kirschner was an early football player for the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. He may, or may not, have been one of the earliest professional football players. Even though he had never played football before 1890, he had the ability to learn and adapt to the game quickly. During the 1890s he was viewed as one of the best offensive linemen in Pennsylvania.
Formation of the team
When the Pittsburgh A. C. (then called the East End Gymnasium Club) formed its team in 1891, Kirschner, who was a standout lineman, became the team’s bulwark. Prior to the formation of the football program, the club excelled at track and field and gymnastics. A year before the team began, Kirschner and Grant Dibert (who were both East End members) played on a pick-up team called the "All-Pittsburghs". Kirschner played center for the "All-Pittsburghs" so that he could square off against the Allegheny Athletic Association's John Moorehead. While Allegheny proved too much for the "All-Pittsburghs", Kirschner and several other East End players left the game with the experience needed to form a team in 1891.
However rivalry aside, Kirschner played one game for Allegheny in 1890 during a 6-4 loss to the Cleveland Athletic Club. Allegheny manager, O. D. Thompson was able to persuade Kirschner to play a guard position.
Issues with professionalism
Prior to being involved in the club's football program, Kirschner served as the club's physical director. In 1891 the East Enders, behind Kirschner, rolled to a 7-0 record. However, the club was referred to as a semi-pro team.
Up until the 1892 season, hints professionalism in Pittsburgh football were centered around Kirschner. The Pittsburgh media had noted that the professor's salary went up in the autumn while the number of classes he taught went down. Some rival clubs, such as the Allegheny Athletic Association, felt that the professor's ability, his reduced class load, and his salary were connected. It was not uncommon to think that the increased salary and reduced workload were payment for coaching and playing on the team. Despite these concerns, the Amateur Athletic Union, the organization that policed amateur athletics, never investigated these claims. If they had, Kirschner may have had the honor of being the first professional football player, instead of Pudge Heffelfinger.
During a 6-6 tie between Pittsburgh and Allegheny in 1892, Pittsburgh accused the Allegheny players of purposely trying to injure Kirschner. Allegheny countered that the professor was a professional who didn't belong on the field anyway.
Heffelfinger as a replacement?
In 1892, Pittsburgh manager George Barbour traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to watch a game involving the Chicago Athletic Association. Here Pittsburgh's manager scouted Pudge Heffelfinger and felt that he would be an ideal replacement for the injury-prone Kirschner. However Allegheny would nabbed him a few weeks later and use him against Pittsburgh.
- Van Atta, Robert (1981). "The Early Years of Pro Football in Southwestern Pennsylvania" (PDF). Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association. 3 (Annual): 1–21.
- Riffenburgh, Beau & Bob Carroll (1989). "The Birth of Pro Football" (PDF). Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association. 11 (Annual): 1–30.
- PFRA Research. "Last Hurrah in Allegheny" (PDF). Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association: 1–3.
- PFRA Research. "Five Hundred Reasons" (PDF). Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association: 1–6.
- PFRA Research. "Three A's for Football" (PDF). Coffin Corner. Professional Football Researchers Association: 1–4.